On Wednesday morning, St. Petersburg Rep. Darryl Rouson called for the new legislation at a press conference at Tampa's Lykes Gaslight Park where he was joined by local Democrats, as well as former Gov. Charlie Crist — a political independent who has been outspoken in criticizing what happened at the polls last week.
"Florida was the laughing stock of the nation again this year when it came to voting, and we ought to be tired of that," Rouson declared, a reference to the state's voting problems that surfaced back in 2000, when it took 36 days to declare a winner in the state's presidential election, due to the intervention by the state and U.S. Supreme Court. This time around it "only" took four days, but elected officials from both parties in the state have agreed that they need to examine what went wrong last week.
But Rouson doesn't think much about the idea of creating a task-force to study what went wrong.
"We're always task forcing and studying stuff," he replied with disdain. "We know what happened. We saw ... I'm not in favor of more task forces and more study groups ... it's time for action."
Rouson's bill — which is being sponsored in the Senate by Orlando area Democrat Darren Soto — would essentially reverse parts of HB 1355, such as the reduction of early voting, bringing it back up to 14 days. That would include the Sunday before Election Day, an important date for African-American voters in particular, which the GOP-led state Legislature removed when they crafted their bill. It would also add more voting sites, and give local supervisor of elections more discretion to determine where those sites would be.
But can the bill attract bipartisan support? Although Rouson said he has reached out to some Republicans (who he did not name), the fact of the matter is that no Republican so far — from Rick Scott to Jennifer Carroll to incoming House Speaker Will Weatherford to incoming Senate President Don Gaetz — has made any remarks about increasing early voting back to 14 days.
CL asked Representative Rouson about that omission.
"I hope they've heard the cry of the people," he said. "I'm hoping that they have now heard that in spite of the opportunities to restrict, people voted anyway!"
The St. Pete Democrat emphasized that his bill is a "work in progress," and said it wasn't partisan. "It became partisan when it (HB 1355) was drafted by a party. It was not policy. We call it deform, not reform," he added.
Former Gov. Charlie Crist also said it was a non-partisan issue.
"It's pretty simple to make sure that people get this right, but Florida got it wrong," adding that all that was needed to make things better would be to expand early voting days, the number of early voting hours, and the number of voting locations.
Also speaking at the press conference was USF student body president Brian Goff, who said college students had great problems at the polls last week. Another provision of HR 1355 made it more difficult to cast a regular ballot if a voter moved from another county and neglected to inform his or her local supervisor of elections before they going to vote.
"Many students are from out of state and they had extreme difficulties in getting to vote here, "he said.
Rouson said he and Soto intend to reach out to all of the supervisor of elections across the state to get their input on their bill.